The Fallacy of the One Dollar a Day Doctrine Preached About Africa

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Over the years, whenever an article or talk is about Africa and poverty alleviation, especially in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), what usually comes up is the line of ‘Many in Africa living below the $1 dollar a day’. I have been guilty in using this line when talking about poverty and the challenges that the common African man faces especially when it comes to accessing life’s basic necessities such as good health, good water, food etc.

In fact, as a Development Studies Student in Pan African Institute for Development – West Africa [PAID-WA], we had a heated debate about what I call the fallacy of the $1 dollar day doctrine and poverty alleviation in Africa which has remained with me for a long time. While we agreed that many Africans and Cameroonians especially lack access to affordable health care and clean water, we were adamant that when it comes to food, there is nobody who lives below that estimated one dollar a day. Interestingly, I stumbled upon an article which also vehemently refused Africans live below one dollar a day. This article served as a trip down memory lane as memories of my PAID WA days came flooding, enabling me to write this post.

Back then in our MDGs lecture, we stipulated that if food stuff was an indication of poverty, then the percentage of poor people in Cameroon was minimal. To prove that, we made a simple Arithmetical calculation on one of the simplest and easiest food known West of the Mungo… ‘njanga rice’. To prepare this food one needs the following;

Where $1 = 500F

Rice – 100F
Palm Oil – 200F

Salt, Maggi (seasoning), ginger, garlic etc – 100F

Pepper – 50 F
Crayfish aka Njanga – 200F

Miscellanous – 100F
Total : 750 F.
This is one of the simplest dish I know but the price value to prepare in its simplest taste is above $1.

  For a dish like this Fufu and eru, you will need at least 5000F to prepare. That is if you want to prepare it simple. For a more detailed preparation and stuff, click on this link. What about the Poulet DGs, Kondre, Achu, Ekwang, Koki etc that we eat? Are they not all above the $1 a day? Even when it comes to simple quick meals like this here, the $1 a day rules out. These simple meals are often very rich in nutrients. For example, the African pears or plum (nutritional content: starch, protein, fats and oil, calcium, irons, and glucose to name a few, can all be had in one simple plate. From these two examples, we can say if access to food is the basis of the $1 a day claim, Cameroonians especially do not fit into that category.

Furthermore, our lifestyles might be different. For example a child in the West’s idea of recreation could mean Disney land, swimming in a five star hotel etc where money changes hands. In Africa and Cameroon especially, many a recreation is free. We might prefer dancing in the rains with friends, making our own toys or listening to folkloric stories at the village square. All of these cost nothing but they enrich us because strong bonds of friendship and belonging ensue from such activities.

Despite the claim of a disease infested, war torn, skinny kids image portrayed in most Western medias about Africa which goes to support this idea, many pundits and forward thinkers today while not refusing Africa has issues, refuse this fallacy of a poor continent where people live on $1 dollar a day. It is for this reason that in one of my many random thoughts, I go with the forward thinkers but I may be wrong and so I stand corrected. There is no denying that in some situations, many still sleep hungry and lack access to basic social amenities. Nevertheless, generalising a whole continent to be living below or within $1 a day is a fallacy I refuse to accept.

Keep reading, keep sharing and keep commenting. I feel inspired by your comments, thank you.


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Author: ARREY - ECHI

I am a Sickle Strong Warrior and Advocate. Welcome to my space.

6 Replies to “The Fallacy of the One Dollar a Day Doctrine Preached About Africa”

  1. Interesting random thought. I believe what would be great is having data to either prove or disprove the 1$ fallacy. Especially given that most of those (us) living in the urban parts of the country fail to really “see” the poverty or, otherwise, riches in front of us. Interestingly enough, if you come to a University town like Buea and see how much some people spend a day just for food ( sometimes 1000 X2 ( and that is just for TWO meals a day), you might be tempted to think we are not as poor as the “data” that has been used for this long.

    1. Hi Tchassa,
      So good to see you stop by. You are right data could have been good but as you see it was mostly a random thought. I do know quiet well that there are people who go hungry. In fact even I have settled on good ole garri now and then. I also know each society have their poor and havesnot but I am still curious on what basis does this one dollar a day idea rest? That we don’t spend as much as the West on food, and other social amenities?

  2. Thanks dear! While poverty is a reality, a lot of people in Africa live well above $1 dollar day. I love the way you analysed it using food as a point of reference. By the way, it looks like I sight a Precious Core link there. Thanks for your immense support, sis!

    1. Man whey wan eru link whey pass one dollar berra go Precious Core ya. I di cook but no get time for recipe and why not your do it simple and clear for a novice to learn, sis.

      Thanks sis. I had to start with the simplest food. The generalisation of poverty doesn’t sit well so while we still have issues to resolve if food is the reference point, we don’t live below $1 a day. The poverty measurement rate needs to be revisited.

  3. Tell them my dear. How I get annoyed with these generalisations. I think the evaluation of poverty needs to be weighed using different measurements than $1 dollar a day.

    1. Exactly my dear. The generalisation is what irks me. I am with you on using different evaluations and should be developed to address this poverty. Thank you for the support dear.

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